The Power of Visual Storytelling
On a slightly cloudy Saturday afternoon at Recovery Café, the ten or so Members who sat around tables spread throughout the room seemed timid. They were looking at the prompts on the whiteboard in the first of two Visual Storytelling Workshops hosted at the Café by Erika Berg, figuring out how to answer their choice of one of the following questions:
- What is your greatest concern?
- What do you wish more people understood about you?
- How do you sustain your hope when life gets tough?
- How has having health insurance changed your life?
- How can you advocate for your rights?
Those questions seem straight forward, but the challenge posed to the Members around the room was, how do you draw your answer on paper?
Erika Berg brought Visual Storytelling to Recovery Café after her experience working with refugee children from Burma (Myanmar). She has facilitated over 40 visual storytelling workshops with refugee youth who fled violent conflict or persecution in Burma and have been resettled in the greater Seattle area or found refuge in neighboring Thailand, India or Bangladesh. The paintings can be found in the book, “Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma,” which won the 2016 Indie Book Award for Current Events / Social Change.
When asked to describe Visual Story Telling, Erika said, “Emotions conveyed and evoked by a single image can tell a story of a thousand words, open hearts, and build bridges of understanding. This is especially true when it comes to commonly misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized members of our society.”
Erika learned about Recovery Café through Imam Jamal Rahman of the Interfaith Community Sanctuary. She visited the Café to discuss having this workshop with our Members when, “a member of the Café felt comfortable enough to join our conversation. He was moved by the paintings, by refugee children. With tears in his eyes, he told me about his ex-girlfriend, a Somali refugee who had stuck by his side through thick and thin. Already, I looked forward to our first of two scheduled workshops.”
Visual Storytelling is an opportunity for our Members who have experienced trauma or have been affected by mental illness to share their stories, their experiences, and their thoughts without having to reveal their identities. Research regarding the population Recovery Café serves reveals that 9 out of 10 people have suffered significant childhood trauma, nearly half have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
As soon as the Members began drawing, their lives, their stories, started to come alive. Some drew of hope, some of pain. Some of the Members drew about their childhood, their struggles with identity and acceptance, their families. Some drew about love, about friendship, and what the future had in store.
Erika noted, “above all, workshop participants are grateful that a place like Recovery Café exists. One man said the Café was like a Boys & Girls Club for adults. Another said it serves as a lifeline; he wished the Café was open seven days a week. Each Saturday evening he worried he wouldn’t be able to make it on his own until Tuesday morning. It was the only place he felt supported, unconditionally.”
By the end of the sessions on Saturday and Wednesday the mood had changed. The Members were openly exchanging their stories, comfortable sharing and comparing their first drawing of the workshop with their last.
When asked what she wanted the Members or Recovery Café supporters to take away from this workshop, Erika said, “Visual storytelling is healing and empowering. Ever-creative and challenging, the two-hour process encourages self-reflection, self-expression and self-validation. It also cultivates a sense of camaraderie and community. (Members should come away with)…a greater sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and purpose.”
Thank you Erika for bringing this creative, challenging, therapeutic tool to the Members of Recovery Café and thank you to all of Recovery Café’s donors who make it possible for us to host these transformational opportunities!